Sunday, February 13, 2011

Nonfiction 5: Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

"Despite the third word of the title, this is not an instruction manual that will tell you anything useful about how to be happy. Those books are located in the self-help section two aisles over, and once you've bought one, done everything it says to do, and found yourself miserable anyway, you can always come back here to understand why."

-- Foreword, pp. xvi - xvii

Stumbling on Happiness is the third book in my self-imposed "It's the Mind" trilogy. I think I'm ready to take a bit of a break from tales of psychology experiments conducted on unsuspecting college students. (A lot of psychology experiments involve experimenters acting like amazing jerks to unsuspecting volunteers, have you noticed?)

Dan Gilbert's 2004 talk at TED, which he made at about the time his book was published, could serve practically as a book trailer:

If you like that, his book explores the same topic in more detail. (And while we're on the subject, also check out behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman's fascinating TED talk.)

Gilbert's book is unfortunately blending with Jonah Lehrer's How We Decide in my mind. Clearly we see the perils of reading a bunch of similarly-themed books at once. I suppose this means I'd better let a couple of months pass at least before picking up, say, Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational, or any other entry in the genre.

Which is too bad, because Gilbert's book may be the best of the three, or at least the most useful. Gilbert takes the time to convince us that every single one of us - or at least, those of us who are human beings - mistake our brains' confabulations for actual objective reality. We could all stand to be reminded of that from time to time.

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